Cowardice of Eyes by Claude Alick
In order to get an understanding of this play, one must acquire a
rudimentary knowledge of the loa or spirits of the Haitian Voudo
religion involved in the environment of this play, their influence on
the beliefs of the characters and on the flow of the plot. They are as
follow: (Aret) A stopping charm designed to prevent or remove the
influence of a spirit from doing harm to its intended victim. (Mambo)A
female priest of the voudo religion.(Hougan)a male priest of the Voudo
religion.(Guede) controller of the eternal crossroads at which
everyone must someday cross over.(Papa Legba)Legba controls the
crossing over from one world to the next. He is the contact between
the worlds of spirit and of flesh. In contrast, Guede only controls
the dead. (Brise) Brise, a counter part of Bakulu,is a spirit of the
hills.He is fierce in appearance, but actually he is gentle and likes
children. Brise lives in the chardette tree and sometimes assumes the
form of an owl. He is powerful and demanding and accepts speckled hens
as sacrifices. Bakulu) Is a terrible spirit that no one dares to
invoke. He drags chains, reminiscence of slavery. His habitat is in
the deep woods where offerings are taken to him. He himself possesses
no one. Since no one wants to call on him, people simply take any
offerings that go to him and leave them in the woods.
(This play can be staged with 4 different actors playing Zuri)
Janjak: An old man
Zuri: A young woman
Setting: The night is filled with noises, tree frogs, crickets, dogs
barking in the distance, the sound of church bells, all intermingled
with the noise of a ceremony, drumming, singing, People shouting
intermittently. All happening off stage.
Time: The night of All Saints, a village in central Haiti, four years
after the earthquake that devastated Port-Au-Prince.
Scene: Two priests of the Voudo religion, an old man, Janjak, (a
Hougan) and a young woman, Zuri (a Mambo), standing on stage.
Priye Gine, always so beautiful, paying homage to all the people who
touched dis land. Taino, Europeans, de Africans, now Haitians,
honoring de house.
The African Prayer. Always been your favorite part of the Langaj,
Wat you doing out here? Everything is happening over dere, at de
We are not really a part of all that.
De An Vwa Mo, de cleansing ceremony. And we not really ah part of
it? Ah don't understand.
This is for all of Haiti, a search for what ails us, an attempt to
cleanse the land of hatred, violence, jealousy, (pause) and a kind of
Summons? (laughing) Wat you fishing for? Wat you trying to catch?
I need some help, Papa. I'm seeking the pieces to form an Aret. You
know, pieces from Haiti's past and present, creating an offering to the spirits.
An offering to one spirit you mean? Buried in de ground, under de
protection of one spirit. You don't sound too sure of all dis, Zuri.
That's why I need your help, Papa. I need you to help me entice
Guede. Bring him here, keep him occupied.
While you doing wat? You trying to invoke a spirit with two faces,
one looking at de dead, and de oder at de living. Christ girl, you
must be crazy. (laughing) dose are two powerful spirits you fooling
with. You may be able to distract Guede for a time, but Papa Legba is
always watching the Crossroads.
You laughing, Papa. I didn't say trick. I said entice. And Papa Legba
will just watch, see what I'm doing. Probably even help. Without his
assistance this plan can't go forward. The old man controls the
Oh! Now you mincing words, entice, trick, and you some kind of expert
on the nature of Papa Legba? Dat fire in your mouth, always been dere.
But Dat fire in your hands.
You are looking at this from the wrong point of view, Papa.
No. No am not. Dis sounds like de ceremony from De Bois Caiman. You
trying to journey in the footsteps of Fatima and Boukman? (pause,
looking at Zuri.) Dat's why Guede, and where did you find ah black
pig for de summons?
A friend found one for me; across the river, near the Dominicans. They
didn't obey the Yankees, didn't kill all their pigs.
You resourceful, I'll give you dat.
Just do two things for me, Papa, and I'll be forever in your debt.
You already in meh debt. Ah brought you up. (Pause.) Debt, nasty
word, leaves ah rancid taste on meh tongue.
Let's call it a favor then, one that I'll You must be my La
Place, Papa. Wen Guede comes, keep everything going, let him mount
many Hounsis, entice him with the dance.
And you going to be doing wat? Ah should say no to dis and watever
else you have in mind.
Send me to the Temple of Guede, at the Crossroads.
Tricking ah trickster? Ha ha ha. You real crazy, Zuri. The Crossroads
between de living and de dead? You trying to walk among de ancestors
and spirits as if you in your back yard.
Why so surprised, Hougan? Why so amused? You know this has been done
Don't call me dat. I'm no one's Hougan. The Hounfor threw me
out, accused meh of being a Bakur, dey saying ah casting curses,
harmful spells, ungrateful You believe it? Me! Me! (Janjak is
stabbing his chest with his thumb.)
Listen to this night, Papa, feel it. (Pauses. The drums are loud. She
breathes deeply and spins around. She dances to the music.) Can you
sense this night?
Zuri, dey accused me of dabbling in de Petro, for money. (Pause.) You
listening to me?
Yes, Papa, I'm listening.
No! No you not. Your mind is… Ah remember you as ah child, eyes
glaze over, you would be ten thousand miles away as we try to speak to
you. Ah see dat look on your face right now.
I've a confession, Papa.
Ah confession? You sound Catholic. Do anyting, den confess to ah man.
I'm responsible for the rumors about you, and de Petro.
(Looking at Zuri intensely.)
Wat? I raised you—you don't believe—
If two little words about you could cause such turmoil, they don't
deserve your loyalty, your dedication.
Why! Why you start dat mess? Dat was my life.
(Pause, down cast eyes.)
All that can be undone, Papa. I need a La Place that I can trust.
Ah man's reputation can't be repaired like ah old house after ah
hurricane. Damage like dat can never be—
I knew you would refuse to come if I just ask. Since Mama died you
been cooped up on dat mountain.
How could you be sure ah would come down?
I just had to shake you. I knew you would if—Maybe. (paused, looking
I know how we can make peace with your Hounfor when this is over.
(A long pause)
Wat's happening to you? Ever since dat quake, ever since your
It's bigger than that, papa. There's more at stake
Wat's your plan any how?
A trip to the Crossroads, to the Temple of Guede, that's all.
Dat's all? And wat for? Wat you going to do dere?
Papa, I've this recurring dream. I'm standing in a clearing in the
bush. In the dream, I'm aware that that place is where the past,
present and future crisscross. Some people are coming towards me, out
of the bush, trying to hand me different objects. I extend my hands to
receive them, and like that (she snaps her fingers) I'm awake. That
place where I stand in the dream is the Temple of Guede at the
Crossroads. What they are trying to hand me are the pieces for an
The pieces for an Aret? Might be ah big difference between wat you
thinking right now, and wat's in dose hands in de dream. De spirits
may not be willing to hand you anything, at least not without ah
Papa, I'm willing to take my chances. We need to do something, bring
an end to all this suffering, hate, for women, for girls, so much self
Quite de task, you speaking as if you think it's all so easy, find
dose objects, bringing them back. Most of us walk long and never look
back to see wat's left behind.
I'm always looking back, Papa, at Ashe Fatima, and Boukman. They
sent Toussaint to the Temple of Guede, even rumored that he spoke to
the Taino Queen, Anacaona. That's why I'm always looking back, way
back. I know why Columbus and his Spaniards tricked her, broke her
neck with that rope.
We all know what the Spaniards did to her. Dat's why we still
celebrate her life. But if you always looking back, how you going to
recognize de present? Sure way to bounce your toes, and fall on your
I'm sure about this journey, Papa. I don't need to keep my eyes on
the ground, just on the horizon. Toussaint went back. Why not me?
Oh! Comparing yourself to Toussaint, are you?
Not at all, Papa, Toussaint was the greatest Haitian whoever lived.
Who am I to be so presumptuous?
He never told ah soul wat de Taino Queen said. He came back with only
dreams. You see where dose dreams landed him? In ah icebox on ah
mountain in France, you be careful.
You think there's something wrong with dreams and expectations?
Nothing wrong with dreams, Zuri, but you should be cautious about
where you let dem take you. In some places dey believe all existence
is de dream of ah god.
In our case, that God must be deep in a nightmare. We are abandoned,
Papa, left opened to all kinds of attacks, spiritual and otherwise.
They come at us like stinging flies. (Pause.) We need to resurrect our
Sacred Knowledge, form a defense against
Resurrect? You think de ancient spirits pack up, went somewhere? Dey
here with us right now, in de air we breathe, de animals we eat and
sacrifice. And don't forget in plants, and de dirt we came from. We
are Haitians, we are never alone.
I know, Papa, I know. But the spirits are causing all kinds of mischief. I see
them plain, the eternals, Toussaint, and the others who died with the scent of
power in their noses, destiny just outside of arms length. Something has plagued
me ever since I visited Fort De Joux, where they murdered Toussaint.
Why would you go to such ah place?
The place is a museum now. I heard they had his skull displayed on a
shelf. So I just wanted to see.
Well, was it dere, did you see it?
I entered the place with this urge, this plan (laughing) but this old
woman in an ill fitted dress kept following me with her eyes. You know
how some shopkeepers follow you with their gaze the moment you enter
Yeah, I know. Thieves always think everyone else is ah thief. You
should have knocked her down, grab de skull. His essence is still in
it, return it to Haiti. Would have caused
an uprising, an international incident, could have made you a hero,
the woman who brought Toussaint home.
Oh yeah, and they could have caught me; put me in jail. I'm glad his
skull wasn't there. The French never relinquish their trophies.
Too bad you couldn't find it. No one knows his exact burial place.
Such ah man, thrown in de ground like ah stray dog.
I read something about Toussaint's last days on earth, written by a
man called Abbe Dormoy, the last outsider to see him alive. Dormoy
said Toussaint was speaking to the Taino Queen, Anacaona. He claimed
he couldn't fully discern.
Ahh! What? Couldn't fully discern? Well, wat did he write, if he
couldn't discern? And who was this Abbe Dormoy?
A Jesuit priest, he bluffed his way into the prison, posing as a
doctor. I think they had plans to snatch Toussaint out of the clutches
of Napoleon. They claimed Dormoy was a notorious libertine, had no
sense of fear. He called Toussaint's condition delirium,
hallucinations. He wrote about standing in the cell, at Fort De Joux,
and Toussaint having no idea he was there. He said Toussaint was
conversing with the Taino queen about the land, and the destiny of the
divine. Strangest bit of writing I've ever read, and from A Man of
(Shaking his head.)
De night sees wat you have in mind, child. Dat's why all de
restlessness. You ever heard de saying, let sleeping dogs alone? Tell
me, why you, and why now?
Why not me? And if not me, who, when? You said I already missed an
opportunity in that French museum.
So, by tricking ah Loa and sneaking into de Temple of Guede, you think
you can unravel de conversation between de Taino Queen and Toussaint?
Bring all dat back, appease de spirits, reconnect de past and present,
bringing peace and tranquility to Haiti?
Papa, you boil it down like cane juice.
Only to get to de essence of de matter.
Your sarcasm is painful, Papa. Don't you see, I'm pleading for
help, from everyone and everything? You know the manners of Papa
Legba, guarding the Crossroads, speaking to the spirits for us in his
I didn't raise you to watch you lost in dis miasma. Your energy is
like ah disease. Have I ever told you how you came to be our daughter
and de girl before you?
You tried once, a long time ago. I broke into tears and ran away.
Yes, you did.
I think you misunderstood those tears, Papa.
Maybe so, but this time, listen, just listen. Think of it as your
birth, your second birth. De car came rushing down de road, fast as
hell. It happened like dat (Janjak snapped his fingers) knocked her
out of meh hand and out of her shoes. Ah saw no plate on de car, but
de face of de man at de wheel stuck in meh head. He sped on as if he
just hit ah dog. Ah recognized him, ah member of Papa Doc's secret
police, from Cap Haiten. Ah picked her up from de ditch and held her
in meh arms pleading, Olarum Papa, her mother will kill me. Please
don't let her die. We buried her quietly. Anything else would mean
big trouble, not for dem but for us. Two days later, ah sharpened my
cutlass, left your mother in tears, told her ah will be driving ah
truckload of provisions down to Port- Au-Prince. Ah saw him drinking
in ah café, downtown Cap Haiten, laughing and talking loud. Ah found
his car, parked just down de street, de shape of her little skull
still in de grill. Ah hid between two buildings, along de route ah
hope he will take to de car. Wen he come staggering down de street,
alone in de dark, ah hit him hard on de throat with de blade. He fell
to de ground and ah hit him twice more, had no idea how hard it would
be to separate ah man from his head, even my rage didn't make it
easy. Den ah went to de warehouse, apologized to de foreman for been
late, got into de truck and drove to Port-au-Prince, just as ah told
your mother. And dat's where ah saw you, crawling through ah hole in
dat fence at de orphanage. Quite amazing, in de middle of violence and
death, good can come out.
You don't speak her name?
Her name is your name.
I know that. My memories of that day, so clear. I remember you looking
very kind. That's why I got into your truck I suppose.
Six years old you told us.
The look on Mama's face, the first time she saw me, looked as if her
eyes might bleed. She kept that look on me for many days, but then she
showed me the clothes and shoes, helped me make-up that little bed in
the corner. The clothes fitted. I had to put a little paper in the toe
of the shoes. I remember asking, 'are you adopting me?' I was
always afraid that the owner of the bed would come to sleep with me,
because I knew she was dead. Then the night after you tried to tell me
about her, she came to me, told me it's okay to have her name and
all her stuff, she didn't need them anymore. But I should do
something in exchange, hug and kiss you and mama often.
You remember all ah dat? You never told us.
Girls will have their secrets. After all, she was my sister.